When it was first announced that a new Star Trek animated series would be heading to Nickelodeon, a certain subsection of Star Trek fans began wringing their hands that this might be the point the franchise “dumbs itself down” to attract those gosh-darned youths. Well, good news: that’s not going to be the case.
Speaking to Trek Core at New York Comic Con this past weekend, producer and Star Trek franchise head Heather Kadin briefly touched on the upcoming 3D animated Nick series, being helmed by Trollhunters and Lego Ninjago’s Kevin and Dan Hageman. The series sees a bunch of “lawless” teens coming across a derelict Starfleet vessel, taking it as their own and charting a course for adventure across the galaxy.
Although it’s a long way away yet – in the same interview, Kadin suggested to not expect to see the show air until even after 2021 – it’s going to be the first Star Trek series explicitly aimed at a younger audience since, well... the original Star Trek animated series. Some fans came out of the announcement concerned that kids these days should just get into Trek the way they did – by watching a mainline show like Discovery as it airs, or watching one of the classic series through repeats, streaming, or home releases – instead of getting a new series aimed at them and them alone that could dilute the “maturity” of the franchise. But Kadin took the time to stress not just how the new series won’t look down on the younger audience it’s chasing, but why it’s important to give that audience their own way into Star Trek as a franchise.
“The reason we went to the Hagemans is because if you’ve seen their work, you know that they’re not writing Muppet Babies. It’s not ‘Little Spock and Little Kirk. It’s not playing down [to viewers] that way,” she said. “Even [with] their characters in Ninjago – they are teenagers – I was able to watch that with my kids and they write with a very epic quality. They tell stories the way we tell stories in live action: serialized, turning over cards...I think it will be a great way for fans to introduce the franchise to their kids, and for new fans to be formed, because it’s such a big franchise, [it can be hard] to get into as a kid.”
In an age where kid’s animation is more varied and way more mature than adults will often give it credit for – look at everything from Steven Universe to Clone Wars to, She-Ra, and especially to, as Kadin notes, shows like Ninjago and Trollhunters that the Hagemans worked on before starting this new series – the thought that a Star Trek show would have to be “lowered” in some capacity to cater to kids was already ridiculous gatekeeping in the first place.
But Kadin is right in that, as Star Trek enters this new phase of expansion and revival on the TV side of things, it needs to reach out beyond audiences that are already fans. It needs to create new fanbases, young fanbases, that can then grow into shows like Picard or Discovery or whatever else is being cooked up.
You can’t really do that by expecting a pre-teen to sit down in front of a TV or PC, load up an on-demand service , and get stuck into an episode of Discovery – a show that is decidedly aimed at a mature audience, more so than any other prior Trek series in the first place, what with the f-bombs, violence, and uh, occasional Klingon sexual assault. And sitting them in front of Netflix or a DVD box set and punching up an episode of DS9 or TNG might work (it did for me, syndicated runs of Voyager is how I fell in love with the franchise as a tween), but it’s not exactly giving them their own in-road in the series, but instead expecting them to bend to the same in-road old fans already took.
Star Trek can’t grow the audience it reaches with an attitude like that. It needs the variety of perspectives on the series, the variety of viewpoints, if it’s to survive in this age of rapid expansion – and it’ll get that by bringing new audiences in beyond the diehards who are already invested.
Star Trek will be alright. So will the kids. Let them have their show.